Community Crossroads Center resident Charles Battle has spent most of his life experiencing homelessness.
The 67-year-old Vietnam veteran suffers from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after serving six years in the United States Army throughout the 1970s. Because his PTSD has made it difficult to consistently reside in one place for a long period of time, Battle has faced periodic homelessness for over 40 years.
“I’ve seen it all,” Battle said. “I’ve seen more than the average person will see in a lifetime.”
Donning a Vietnam War Veteran hat, Battle reflected on his life’s journey to where he is today and his experience as a homeless veteran.
Born in 1956 in the small town of Lucama, North Carolina to a family of tobacco and corn sharecroppers, Battle spent most of his childhood helping his father tend the farm alongside his brother.
Battle described Lucama as a “little country town” with only one police man, grocery store and stoplight. As a teenager, he attended Springfield High School, one of the two all-Black schools in Wilson County, until schools were integrated in 1970.
Because he had to help support his family by working on the farm, Battle said he sometimes couldn’t attend school for months at a time. By the tenth grade, Battle was forced to drop out of high school to work full-time.
“I couldn’t really go to school like a normal child to learn and concentrate because I had to help the family work, to help my family, I had to work in the fields to help them make money so we could survive,” Battle explained.
While in school, Battle said he loved to study history and had dreams to travel the world one day. At 18-years-old, he joined the U.S. Army to fight in the ongoing Vietnam War where he would continue to serve for six years.
It was of this period of his life that Battle spent the most time recounting his favorite memories.
“I went in the Army, I traveled and saw the world, and I’ve done been halfway around the United States,” Battles reflected.
While training to be an airborne ranger for the Army, Battle said he faced conditions that aimed to strengthen the soldiers both physically and mentally to prepare them for the difficulties they would face overseas.
Once in Vietnam, Battle said he had made many friends from across the U.S. that he bonded with throughout his service. He told stories of basic “boot camp” training, guerilla warfare and the loss of life he saw in action.
Though Battle described some of his best memories from serving in Vietnam, he also struggles with long-term stressors due to his time in combat. Like many other military service members, Battle suffers from PTSD - a stress disorder that has affected a significant number of Vietnam veterans over the last five decades.
“When I got out of the Army, and came back to Lacoma, with that PTSD I had changed, my family didn’t know who I was. They said I looked like the same Charles that left, but I came back another Charles,” Battle said. “See that’s what the military will do to you, all these guys come back from overseas and they’re not the same as when they left.”
Shortly after returning back to North Carolina after Vietnam, Battle became homeless for the first time. Because his PTSD went undiagnosed for many years, Battle said he didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay in one place for consistent, long periods of time.
“I started going and talking to my VA psychiatrist and my doctors, and he said I was diagnosed with PTSD. And he said that’s what makes me move around from place to place and (that’s why) I can’t settle down,” Battle said. “So that’s how I started experiencing homelessness.”
Since then, Battle said his symptoms have caused him to leave six permanent housing locations throughout his life. Some homes he could only stay at for as little as two months before leaving, most times without his belongings.
Battle has worked various jobs throughout his moves, including in construction, a disaster preparation organization and a sheet metal factory.
Though Battle said he has received nothing but kindness from strangers throughout his experience with homelessness, he admitted that even with a positive outlook, living without safe housing could be difficult.
“I slept on the ground in Wilson, I slept outdoors in the wintertime, about 20 (degrees) above zero. I slept outdoors on the ground on the sidewalk, and I mean you’ve got to be tough to do that. I didn’t even have a coat or nothing,” Battle explained. “I said, ‘God, I’m tired. Don’t let me freeze to death and wake me up tomorrow morning.’”
Battle has his own unique story, but he is also one of many U.S. veterans who have experienced homelessness since leaving the military.
According to an assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, over 40,000 veterans were experiencing homelessness in January of 2017. As well as this, researchers found that 5.6% of more than 300,000 veterans referred to the VA’s anxiety or PTSD clinics experienced homelessness.
“See with PTSD, I can’t really stay in one place for too long. I might wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Los Angeles,’” Battle explained. “And the PTSD, you just take off and go. When it hits you, you don’t take no clothes or nothing. I’ve been plenty of places and not even taken my clothes or suitcase.”
While Battle is currently a resident at Community Crossroads Center, he will soon move into a residence in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Battle credits his case worker at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and CCC staff members for helping him find housing.
When asked about his experience at CCC, Battle said he made many new friends at the shelter while being given the guidance and support needed to create a long-term plan for himself.
“This shelter, it’s very good in there, I mean they feed you like a horse. I don’t have nothing bad to say about them. They helped me, they was good to me,” Battle said. “I stayed there until I got back on my feet, and I appreciate it. Everybody’s real nice in there.”
Though his struggle with PTSD has made it difficult for the Vietnam veteran to find a place to call home, Battle said he is determined for his new housing in Rocky Mount to be his last.
“That’s the way that PTSD works, you can’t sit still. It’s very hard to sit still. But this place here in Rocky Mount, I’m going to do my best to sit still and stay there,” Battle said. “Because I’m 67, I can’t keep going to these shelters and trying to start over. This has got to be it for me”
“You’ve got to have stability, you’ve got to have somewhere to call home,” Battle concluded.